Chamber and county begin recreation talks
Following a call from the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce for improvements in the Grady County Recreation Department, chamber and county officials sat down together to talk in the first of possibly many future sessions to address concerns.
County Administrator Rusty Moye attended the monthly chamber board of directors meeting Monday and discussed the recreation program with chamber leaders.
Chamber Chairman William G. Jones restated the board’s desire to work toward improvements, not only in the recreation department, but public education as well.
“We want to do whatever possible to foster economic development and tourism,” Chairman Jones said Monday.
The county administrator discussed the role of the recreation department director and the history of the county-funded recreation program. He acknowledged there are areas for improvement, but also noted there is no additional funding available for the department.
“Establishing a two-way line of communication is great. That is the way to do it,” Administrator Moye told chamber board members.
He also recommended that the chamber submit a list of concerns to the county’s recreation advisory committee and, in turn, that group could bring a recommendation back to the county commission for its consideration.
Moye went further to say that if the advisory committee does not bring forth the concerns to the county commission, then he would.
Chamber board member LaDon Toole, who is administrator of Grady General Hospital, talked about his experiences with traveling baseball teams and the potential for a large economic impact here if tournaments for traveling teams were hosted at Barber Park.
According to Toole, a recent tournament in Americus generated about $15,000 in gate receipts. “That does not include money spent in the community for hotel rooms, gas and food in restaurants. It would be wonderful for our community to host events like these whether it’s baseball, soccer or whatever sport. There is a tremendous upside to them,” he said.
Chairman Jones said the chamber board was interested in what needs to be done for the county recreation department to host these types of tournaments.
Moye said the commissioners would be the last to stand in the way of any one participating with traveling teams, but that it has been the tradition of the county commission that no fee is charged to use Barber Park.
“That is the tradition. Barber Park was not built to make money. It was built for Grady County kids and their involvement, and that is the mentality of the commissioners,” Moye said.
The county administrator went on to say that some citizens had “gotten sideways” with Recreation Department Director Phil Gregory over traveling teams, but he stated that neither Gregory, nor himself, has the authority to open the park to traveling teams. Moye said the board of commissioners would have to act on each request.
Toole suggested that a projection of other potential economic impact could be measured if the county is opposed to charging admission.
Chamber Executive Director Brian Marlowe, whose children also participate in traveling ball teams, said that if a gate fee cannot be charged, the tournaments would not come to Grady County. He says the tournament leagues depend on the gate fees to operate and he noted, “there is big money in that.”
Marlowe echoed Toole’s impressions that the potential for an economic impact by hosting traveling team tournaments is there.
Chamber Director Dr. Mike Waldrop commented, “you will have no problem getting tournaments here.”
Toole agreed and commented on the quality and availability of recreation fields in Grady County. The hospital administrator, who formerly lived in Brooks County, told the group that Brooks does not have “half the resources” that Grady County has. Brooks regularly hosts tournaments and officials there believe them to be economically beneficial.
He added, “we could host larger tournaments here.”
In addition to the issue of hosting traveling teams, the chamber board members expressed concerns with other aspects of the county recreation program.
Chairman Jones suggested the creation of an annual calendar, which would allow parents and children to know when different sport seasons begin and end, and when games will be played before registering for one sport that overlaps another.
Jones complained, “no one knows what is going on” under the current recreation department organization.
Chamber board member Dr. Claire McCaskill commented, “You call two weeks before the season is to start and no one can tell you when the games start.”
Jones also spoke up for the need to have more training programs for coaches and possible summer activities such as tennis camps.
“From what I hear from people, they are becoming more and more frustrated with the local recreation program to the point they are going to other communities. The same with the schools. Once people go Brookwood or another private school, they are not likely to come back into public schools. From the chamber perspective, we need to see how we can come up with a plan and have involvement in formulating the plan, but we’ve got paid people on the county staff to do it. We’re not looking to write the plan, but we can help get public input and build support for the goals and where we’re going with the recreation department. Brian (Marlowe) will tell you, schools and the recreational opportunities are the biggest attractions when people relocate. There are some low cost or no cost things that could be done,” Jones said.
The chamber chairman also took issue with the delay in construction of the aquatic center approved by the voters in the most recent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.
“Are we doing anything or making plans so that in 3-5 years the pool can be built?” Jones asked.
The county administrator said the commissioners backed away from building the pool right now because of the economic situation, noting that the money to manage and operate the pool would have to be raised and commissioners oppose any tax increase at this time.
“We’ve had summer camps and they were well attended. We’ve had coaching seminars that were halfway attended. People are really busy in the summer. We don’t just sit there on our hind ends. We understand a lot of people are complaining about scheduling and we are working on that, no two ways around it. We are starting now to sign people up for fall sports,” Moye said.
The county administrator said that recreation department officials took part in Saturday’s “Back to School Blitz” to sign up children for fall sports.
Jones responded, “I saw them there and asked when the season would start and they couldn’t tell me.”
Moye pledged that if improvements are not made in key areas, then “we will make some changes, no doubt about it.”
Chairman Jones said he would prepare a list of concerns to present to the county’s recreation advisory committee, and he asked that he be notified when the group would meet.
Editor’s Note: Due to incorrect information provided to The Messenger last week, the list of names of the committee members was partially incorrect.
The members of the committee, according to the county, are Scott Gainous, Brett Phillips, John Walton, Greg Clark, Drew Pyrz, Scott Higginbotham, Steve Reagan and Fredrick Williams.